Criminal Defense in Orange County

Case of the Month: California's Death Penalty

On July 16, 2014, United States District Judge Cormac Carney vacated a death sentence against Ernest Dewayne Jones because it violated the eighth amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the case in question, Ernest Dewayne Jones was sentenced to death on April 7, 1995. Since 1978, California has sentenced 900 people to death. 13 have been executed and only 81 have received a final determination of their habeas petition. Of the 17 currently awaiting execution, all of them have been on death row for more than 25 years.

The problem before the court was not a question of the defendant's guilt. The problem was time. The eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty system is so plagued by significant delays that few are ever really executed. For every one execution, seven inmates have died of natural causes. The average delay of 25 years is not getting shorter, it is getting longer. There has not been an execution in California for nearly 8 years. It is estimated to carry out all of the executions of inmates presently on death row it would take 14 years, if one execution was carried out every week.

The court thusly concluded that the penalty was effectively a sentence of life with a remote possibility of death; a type of sentence that no one would impose.

The executions that may take place will not be determined by the number of persons killed or even the date that the inmate arrived on death row. Rather, the determining factor is the speed with which the inmate goes through the post-conviction appeal process.

Based upon the above, the court determined the death penalty has lost any deterrent effect it ever had. Judge Carney also held that the delays are only the inmates fault in isolated incidents. The fault overall is the system's.

I believe the Court's reasoning is inescapable. The system does not work. The penalties are not carried out. It must be changed.

When you add the cost to the citizens of the state of California for a death penalty conviction, it appears the time has come to do away with the death penalty. It is hard to imagine that anyone would think any inmate is getting a break by having his sentence changed to life without the possibility of parole. That is essentially what it is now.

Contact the Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime. Put his 30 years of experience and knowledge to work for you.